Friday, March 5, 2010

It's Fun to be Frugal

Photo: dieraecherin from

Literacy activities don't need to cost a lot. Here are some inexpensive ideas for engaging your kids in reading, writing and communicating activities that won't break the bank.

Create a Board Game
Board games are a fun way for the whole family to have fun and socialize. Younger kids learn to take turns and stick up for themselves, while parents are thrilled to have everyone away from screen-based entertainment.

Creating your own board games adds a whole new dimension to family fun. It's a wonderful project for a rainy weekend. To start, have your kids check out board games they already know so they can decide on a style of game they want to create. Many games have some sort of journey around a board, with classics like Monopoly adding chance cards. Quiz style games mean that children will have to research questions and answers too, great reading practice. If your kids have a favourite theme or world like Star Wars or Teddy Bears picnic, that will help them decide on backgrounds and art work.

Once they've argued (ahem) decided about it, it's probably a good idea for them to sketch a rough plan of their ideas. Then the real fun begins. Find them a good strong square of cardboard so they can design their board. Pencil is best at first, because its easier to change. Later, they can use paint, felt pens, collage, or even play-dough to add the special features they want. Creating game pieces and markers makes a good break if squabbles break out. Mum and Dad might need to help with making game cards, or you can use trivia-type questions that you find online.

It's great if kids can incorporate a subject they are studying like Ancient Egypt into their board game creation. Researching the game is an almost painless way of learning, and many of the tasks involved demand creative thinking, prioritizing, predicting and analyzing - all skills we want our kids to practise. You can piggyback ideas onto a theme like Ancient Egypt to get say a pyramid shape for your board, chance cards that involve mummy curses or tombs, markers in the style of egyptian art etc. 

Do-It-Yourself Books
Writing and reading their own books is such a powerful learning tool for kids. Because they've written, or been involved in creating the text, it is much easier for them to predict when they try to read it. Ownership of a story also carries with it a considerable emotional investment - ask any writer! I love the online story editors like Bookr, Storybird, and Storyjumper as places where kids can create stories, but sometimes it's just easier and more practical to make your own print books.

Re-use an old exercise book, buy a cheap scrap book or make your own book by simply stapling loose pages together. Your child's own art works from preschool might become the basis for a book. Easy ones to start with are ABC books, where you can try to write and draw something for each letter of the alphabet. Take it a step further and look for pictures that start with the sounds you want, and then try to write a short description on that page. More preparation, but lots of fun, is to go outside and take photographs so you can use those in your book. It's not such a huge extra step to move to short narratives, perhaps so you can remember a great experience to tell Grandma about.

Reading and re-reading the books they make is not only great for building literacy, it makes a wonderful way for children to revisit family memories.

Cards and Letters
What do you do with old photos? If you have multiple copies of prints, why not help your kids to use them by turning them into greeting cards? Cut your cardstock into the sizes you want, then have kids workout how they will use the photos. Maybe they will want to cut out one person, and draw a new background, add glitter, or use paint. Writing in cards and letters is a wonderful habit for kids to acquire. It gives them a chance to write short, achievable text and is sure to gladden the heart of the recipient.

Book Swap
If your child is a voracious reader, it can be hard keeping up the supply of books. Book swaps among neighbourhood kids or at school can be an excellent source of new reading material for all who participate. If your child doesn't have the organizational skills to do this, you could propose it to some other parents, or suggest a swap stall at the school fete.

I love puppets. They can help a shy child find his voice and are a source of rich imagining for children everywhere. Why not turn your old socks into puppets? You can find directions online, and get inspiration there too. I have a weakness for puppets with googly eyes!

Once kids have puppets, encourage them to write their own scripts for their sock people. My suggestion is to start short, perhaps as a Reader's Theatre based on a well-known tale or fairy story. I have some posts about Reader's Theatre that might give you some guidance.

What other ideas do you have to encourage literacy that are short on expense, but long on fun?


  1. RT @BookChook<wbr></wbr>: Latest Book Chook post: It's Fun to be Frugal - ideas to encourage literacy that won't break the bank

  2. Terry Doherty05 March, 2010

    Treasure hunts! It is fun to draw maps and write clues ... We have used picture clues and word clues.

  3. @BookChook<wbr></wbr>'s It's Fun to be Frugal is full of great tips for making literacy fun and affordable<wbr></wbr>!

  4. Book Chook06 March, 2010

    Yes! I love treasure hunts too. Especially if there are Easter eggs or similar to be found at the end. Mmmm, chocolate!

  5. Kelly Burstow06 March, 2010

    Awesome site! I love sock puppets.

  6. Book Chook07 March, 2010

    I've always loved puppets, too, Kelly. And somehow or other, we always seem to have a ready supply of odd socks!

  7. Fun to be frugal AND creative! Great ideas, I enjoyed all of these as a kid.

  8. Book Chook08 March, 2010

    Yes, frugality kind of adds an extra challenge, doesn't it, Kelly? Although, remembering a time in my life when I didn't know where the money was going to come from, it's no fun when it's about survival. That's why I love libraries. Even if we can't afford books, we still have access to them via a library.

  9. I love the book swap idea. I plan to start one. Thanks for the idea!

  10. @Michelle Breum I hope the book swap goes really well for you and your kids!


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